Oh my, this word is packed with so many meanings and not the best of memories for me. Yet I’ve chosen it as my theme this year. Yes, I will take it on in a new and informed way.
As I reconcile differences on a personal level, can I also take responsibility as a member of the global community to restore relationships and make amends for greater sins? This I ask myself, as part of my life-long process of self-healing through the practice of Svadhyaya or self-study. How can I not be part of this dynamic as I’ve witnessed the events of this past year from the pandemic to the recurring fight for racial equality and justice?
I love one of the more archaic meanings of the word sin, from the Greek word armatia, which means to be “off the mark.” Okay, I’ve sinned. We’ve sinned. Now let’s get back on track. Let’s make it right. Let’s do better. Reconciliation may begin with an acknowledgement and a verbal apology but it is also demands action and change. To reconcile differences paradigms and behavior have to shift and be felt.
Entering the confessional booth as a devout seven-year old Catholic girl, I was nervous and frightened. How else could I feel? I was going to be talking to a priest, representing God. Big stuff. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession. These are my sins.” (Silence from me…while the priest coughed and cleared his throat, impatiently trying to urge me to keep going.) Finally I spit it out, “I peed in the ocean.” How sinful could one be at that young age? Not very. This is what I had to confess.
The guilt instilled and the resulting punishment one must accept, i.e., penance, was established early on. We were being taught the difference of being “naughty or nice” – what it was to be saintly or side with the devil, with all the gradations in between from the category of a venial sin – mild bad acts such as sassing your parents…to really bad things, such as murder. It’s taken me decades to work out this residual pattern of guilt. Enough already.
Looking back I’m grateful for how the act of penance actually established the practice of mantra – repetition of a sacred sound or phrases for me. I don’t recall what my exact penance was for “peeing in the ocean” but surmise that the priest may have absolved me with, “Say one Our Father and three Hail Marys. Go in peace, my child.” A light sentence, if you will. Knowing myself, my mind wandered, losing focus, and I probably ended up repeating ten Our Fathers and thirty Hail Marys! In other words, while saying penance at the altar after weekly confession, I was beginning the discipline that would inform my later practices of meditation. Meditation purifies the mind, calms the spirit and creates the space for true reconciliation.